Much has changed at this British builder of quality long distance cruising yachts during 2017, including a management buyout and the acquisition of the Southerly Yachts brand, tooling and IP. As a result, the Discovery Group now has an expanded range of 16 designs from 33-68ft, while retaining three distinct brands – Southerly Yachts for lifting keel monohulls, Discovery Yachts for fixed keel monohulls and Bluewater Catamarans.
Many of the new models are a result of the purchase of Southerly, a well- known builder of variable draught quality cruising yachts based in Chichester Harbour. This company had the benefit of a range of recent models from some of the world’s most respected designers, including Ed Dubois, Stephen Jones and Rob Humphreys.
Discovery is upgrading the Southerly models in terms both quality of fit out and equipment so that, in long-standing Discovery tradition, they are ready for a long passage (apart from filling tanks and loading stores) on the day of the final hand over to the new owner.
In addition, as well as the standard swing keel for which the range is famed, all the recent Southerly models were designed from the outset with the structure to take a fixed keel. This made offering them with a deep draught fin keel and Discovery branding an easy step to make. The group has adopted a new nomenclature in which the Southerly models have a third digit on the end of the model number (‘0’ for aft cockpit and ‘5’ for centre cockpit), to former indicating a swing keel (ie zero keel), rather than fixed keel. The Southerly 540 therefore shares the same hull as the new Discovery 54. Watch our First Look Video of the prototype below.
The head designer at Discovery is Oliver Love, who previously held the same position at Southerly and therefore knows the two brands better than anyone. The Southerly models, particularly the 48 and 54 footers are being “Discoveryised” with better fit out and more headroom in the deck saloons (which, in the S540, has been achieved without changing the external profile), plus smaller, less obtrusive mullions around the windows. In addition, subsequent 540/54 models will have more ergonomic cockpit coaming angles, along with changes to the navigation station to bring it more into line with the Discovery range’s trademark inside watch-keeper’s station.
Remaining true to the company’s heritage, all are optimised for serious long- distance cruising, and can be handled even on ocean passages by a couple. For instance, all models have twin furling headsails – a large overlapping genoa on the outer forestay that’s primarily intended for use on reaching courses and a smaller jib that’s more efficient when going upwind in stronger breezes. Designs above 50ft also have electric winches as standard.
There’s also a new-found demand for the Bluewater 50 catamaran, of which only a couple were built when the model was first launched, but a further four have been sold in the past 12 months, following an updating process. This included reducing weight, without sacrificing strength or stiffness, improving the bridgedeck layout with a new saloon and galley, and adding larger forward windows, a generous cockpit with adjacent hot tub on the foredeck, plus an optional hardtop with an extensive bank of solar panels over the cockpit.
“I think it was ahead of its time when it was first launched,” says Discovery group managing director Sean Langdon. “It’s only very recently that there’s been huge acceptance of the advantages of multihulls for serious cruising and long distance passage making. At the same time, the big French builders have changed their focus to cater predominately for those who are based in the Mediterranean or Caribbean. That makes this boat stand out from the crowd.” Bill Dixon has already been commissioned to design a new 60ft model, and the two catamarans will form the nucleus of a separate brand within the Discovery family, known as Bluewater Yachts.
The Discovery 55 continues to be an iconic design among yachts optimised for short-handed long-distance cruising. As a result it remains popular with new boat buyers nearly 20 years after it was first launched. In addition, a Discovery 58 is currently in build and a further development of the 68 is planned.
All boats – even the smallest model, the Southerly 330 – are offered as a bespoke product that’s tailored to the requirements of each owner. The after- sales process has also been significantly improved compared to what customers of Southerly in its old guise will have experienced. Each new boat has a customer liaison contact, who then brings in specialists from each of the trades that will work on the boat to talk to clients directly. A three-day handover to the new owner is then followed by a 60 day/350 mile service, at which time the handover can be repeated, in the light of additional knowledge of the boat gained by the owner during that time. The company also offers the option of a service carried out by Discovery’s own personnel one year after delivery.
The Discovery Yachts Group is now growing significantly, necessitating increasing the workforce by more than 40 per cent. It’s also looking to expand into an additional factory next to its long-standing Marchwood site near Southampton.
The plan is that all 16 models will be promoted for at least 12 months, with the marketing effort subsequently focussing on the most popular of those. So far this year 11 boats have been sold, ranging from 43-58ft and including five Southerly 480s, which is proving to be a particularly popular model.
The company took five boats, including prototype examples of the Southerly 480 and 540 to this year’s Southampton Boat Show. It proved to be a bumper week, with orders across all ranges to a value of more than £3 million. The first of five of the Southerly 480 on order was sold to Paul and Sheryl Shard of the Distant Shores TV and video series, who previously owned a Southerly 47. Similarly, Nick Gill, founder of the Gill marine clothing company, has traded his Southerly 32 in for a new Southerly 435 and has also bought a stake in the Discovery Group.